The Around the World Embassy Tour and the E.U. Open House are only-in-Washington cultural events, the kind you tell your faraway relatives about: Spending Saturday afternoon sipping champagne at the French Embassy, learning to tango at the Embassy of Uruguay or sampling traditional cuisine at the Royal Thai Embassy.
These cross-cultural exchanges, part of the month-long Passport D.C. series, are educational, fun and a good form of soft diplomacy. The next time an Economist-reading friend casually references a country on the other side of the globe, you can reply, “Yeah, I've visited the embassy. The ambassador's office is pretty sweet.”
Of course, the popularity of these events has a downside: The line outside the Korean Embassy might be longer than the one outside Bad Saint, and once inside, instead of the meal of your life, you're watching a dance troupe through a sea of heads. But there are ways to make the most of your small-scale globe-trotting experiences during the Around the World Embassy Tour (May 5) and the E.U. Open House (May 12).
Chart your tour as if it were a family road trip. If you're going to the Around the World Day, pick an area to visit, such as the embassies around Sheridan Circle, where you can skip between the embassies of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, which promises tours, food and coconut-and-gin cocktails called Gully Wash; the Dominican Republic for music, dancing and food; Korea, always one of the more popular destinations, for folk songs and dancing, plate-spinning demonstrations, and drummers; and Kenya, where singer King Kanja will perform with WKYS-FM DJ Joe. (Other embassies, including Haiti, Chile and Guatemala, are also in the neighborhood.)
Similarly, for the E.U. Open House, try heading to Van Ness, which is slightly off the beaten path (compared with the cluster of embassies on Massachusetts Avenue, at least). In previous years, guests have been able to sip fresh Czech beer and see a dog show at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, stroll across the street to the Embassy of Hungary to eat goulash, sip wines and try a traditional dance, and then walk up the street to learn about Dutch art and desserts at the Embassy of the Netherlands, all putting standing around at a minimum.
Not only does this cut down on travel time between destinations, but if you (or your family) get tired of waiting in line outside one, you can cut your losses and head somewhere else.
On the other hand, if you must go to the Germany-France joint open house, make it your first stop of the day. For the last few years, the European powerhouses have joined forces to host one of the most popular destinations during the E.U. Open House. (Last year was at Germany's embassy; this year is at La Maison Française.) The problem is that their embassies are on Reservoir Road NW, so far from other embassies that you need the E.U.-sponsored shuttle bus to get there, which eats into your day.
Look for the unusual
Yes, everyone loves free food and drink — especially when embassies showcase their native wine and beer — but snacks run out, so don't make them the primary factor in choosing an embassy. (I'm still sad about the year we got to Poland late and they'd run out of pierogies.)
Instead, search out displays and events you're not going to see every day, especially of the animal variety. The Peruvian Embassy will have llamas on-site to showcase its fiber industry, as well as pisco sours. The Embassy of the Republic of Iraq is sponsoring a fashion show with Iraqi designers. Qatar will have falconry demonstrations. Hungary awards prizes to those who can solve a Rubik's cube, in honor of creator Erno Rubik.
Big countries = big lines
The more likely it is that you've been a country, the longer the line is going to be. Americans love Britain, France and Germany — three of the top five overseas destinations for tourists, according to the Department of Commerce — and the lines at those embassies are the longest at the E.U. Open House.
So sure, you might want to tour the gardens, see exotic sports cars and write congratulatory letters to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the British Embassy, but lines to get in stretch down Massachusetts Avenue. Weigh how important that is compared with trying to see three or four embassies in the same amount of time.
Things you shouldn't forget
Finally, a few general tips: Even if you follow this advice, there will be lines at most embassies. Use the time to plan where you're going next. (Both Passport DC and the E.U. Open House have mobile apps you can download ahead of time.) You might want to bring a battery pack to keep your phone charged.
Bring cash and your ID. While admission and some drinks or food samples are free, other embassies sell larger plates. Also, embassies frequently have marketplaces where you can buy traditional crafts or gifts. And some embassies do ask for ID before allowing adults to enter.
Set your alarm and skip brunch. Embassies are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and early arrivals are rewarded with shorter lines and a wider choice of food and drinks.